Another new feature in Ableton Live 7.0 is so called side-chaining of plugins, the new compressor, gate and auto-filter has side-chaining options now available. This is nothing new, Logic has had this for a while, same with other DAWs. There have been ad hoc solutions with third party compressors to get the same effect in Live, but it’s good it’s built into some of the basic plugins now.
So what is side chaining? Basically you tell the plug-in that it should use another audio source and by the audio source changes the plug-in parameters will change. The classical example is compressor side-chaining. It’s been around for a while, but bands like Daft Punk finessed it into now the classical pump effect, and producers such as Eric Prydz seems to use it nearly everywhere. John Holden is another producer who has used compressor side-chaining in delightful unexpected configurations.
As for Live, the setup is easy, all you need to do is to remember to open up another view with a tag button, and you get the settings (see image). You define the extern source, and if you want to put in the side-chaining before or after the effect. Then it’s a matter of keying in various values to get the effect, from subtle to very pumping. A typical side chain source is a kick drum track, resulting in a classical pulsating dance floor sound.
Similarly, the gate has a similar control. In this case it’s the opposite, when the other eternal source triggers, it will open up the gate for this channel, leading to classical uses such as making sure that the kick and bass lines are together.
The auto-filter chaining works so that sweeps will trigger based on the external source. So all three have specific uses.
I tried them out, loaded in a couple of loops from a remix of Genietronix Skyflower that I’ve been trying to finally push out through the door, and hey, it sounded really interesting! So I need to make yet another remix, this time using the new side-chaining effects. So I’m all for it, even if it means that there will be even more and more side-chaining material out there, leading to a state where it’s cliche.
I think moderation is in order for side-chaining. It’s a good effect, useful for the dance floor, but too much sugar and cream destroys cakes. I’ve been in club events where the DJ played five-six or so side-chain tracks, and I swear I could not hear a difference, just this pumping low sound wave pulsating through the crowd for an hour. Maybe if you are in a different state, it makes sense, but for a listener it’s boring. Moderate use, for example not across all the tracks, makes sense.
My wife also claims she gets nauseated when she hears heavily side-chained compressor productions — which is also something I find fascinating, music that makes someone feel physically ill.
Anyway, as for Live 7.0 features, this is a big plus, or a ‘finally-there’ feature, depending on how you look at it. I’m not sure if third party plug-in vendors could hook into the side-chaining channels, maybe it’s available, so we need to wait and see if third party plug-ins will also have use of side-chaining.